Misleadingly subtitled as a “Best of“ collection, “Ring of Fire” is more of a folk music statement. Using minimal instrumentation colored by nostalgic zither strums, Ms. Cash triumphs with old-fashioned ballads essaying romantic sorrow and death á la “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone,” “Don’t Forget This Song” and the Carter Family classic “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Two of Carter Cash’s best-known Columbia-era collaborations with her husband (“If I Were a Carpenter,” “Jackson”) remind the listener of how vibrant the duo was during their late ‘60’s hey day. The rest was recorded under a variety of circumstances from 1998 to 2003.
The finest moment is the bone-chilling cheating husband/plotting wife scenario offered on the previously unreleased recitation “The Heel.” Once an aspiring actress, Carter Cash milks her quavering, aged voice for all the disgust and venom she can muster before wallowing in her character’s self-recriminations. As with most of the songs collected here, it provides a potent example of the heart and drama missing in today’s country music.